It's not every day that a guy with Major League experience like Brian Lawrence becomes your pitching coach. The Lake Elsinore Storm would like to welcome Lawrence as he takes on the role of pitching coach, kicking off the 20th season of Storm baseball.
"When I decided to coach, Elsinore was the one I wanted because I can live close to home," the San Diego resident said. "I know the organization is great. I always hear great things on how they treat everybody and how the fans like it and enjoy it. It's just a great atmosphere and a perfect situation for me."
Lawrence takes the job with the Storm after making his coaching debut last season with the Normal CornBelters of the Frontier League, an independent professional baseball team.
"I got transitioned into it last year coaching Independent ball. It was a great learning experience for me and allowed myself to ease my way in to it," Lawrence said. "There's a little less pressure there so it helped prepare me."
Lawrence's ability to learn on the fly as a player should serve him well in the coaching ranks. He was a part of a San Diego staff that included a trio of young talented right-handers during the early 2000s.
"Coming up in San Diego, we were such a young team; we had to learn from each other being young players with Jake Peavy, Adam Eaton and myself," Lawrence said. "There was no stable veteran player on the pitching staff besides Trevor. Trevor was the guy we all looked up to. He was definitely the leader."
Brian gives a lot of credit to his former pitching coach, mentor and longtime friend the late Darrel Akerfelds.
"I was lucky to have Darrel Akerfelds, who just passed away this last year. He was my minor league coach coming up, and we got to the Big Leagues at the same time. I could always rely on him to fix me if something was wrong, because he had seen me for my entire career. So I got lucky there."
Akerfelds was able to help Lawrence take his game to the next level, using effective techniques and instilling in him the confidence and strategies that Lawrence teaches others today.
"For me, I had to rely on a lot of different things to get people out. I didn't have an overpowering fastball. I didn't have really crazy pitches to get people out. I had to study and research batters strengths and weaknesses and exploit those, " he said. "When teaching pitchers, I know what it takes to get guys out. Being able to relate to my players, sharing my time in the Big Leagues and getting my message across should help because I have been through the same situation. And having their best interest at heart, I feel I can help them get to the next level."
While growing up in a small town in Texas, Brian knew that he was destined for baseball, despite the lack of exposure that most kids get watching television and rooting on there favorite teams and professional players.
"We had some pretty good guys playing in the area considering the size. I always had a good support system at home with my mom and dad," Lawrence said. "They always had me on a team. I didn't watch television much, especially baseball. The closest team was the Texas Rangers, and they were not broadcasted in my area. So I didn't have a favorite team or player growing up. I just rode my bike and played the game everyday."
At a young age, Brian knew that he had something special going for him in baseball.
"I was nine or 10 years old, that's when the dream started for me. Even then, I would say I was going to be a professional baseball player, that's all I ever said I was going to do and I never wavered," Lawrence said. "I was pretty lucky because not most people get to live out there childhood dream so I am really fortunate to be able to say that."
While Lawrence was pitching at the Major League level, he added a pitch to his arsenal that separated him from the pack.
"The game changer for me was learning to throw the cut fastball. I had some trouble with facing good left-handers, and the cutter changed that. It was fun where I could finally go after them and say, 'Here, try to hit this,'" he said.
During Brian's pitching career, he was especially successful against six-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger, Matt Holiday.
"I didn't realize it at the time but I always had Matt Holiday's number. When I was with Colorado for Spring Training, he told me I had his number, so that was nice to hear from such a good player. I was always careful with him because I respected his great ability. It was just a match-up I would come (out on top) every time."
On June 12, 2002, Lawrence struck out three batters on nine pitches in the third inning of a 2-0 win over the Baltimore Orioles. This perfect half inning that he threw was one for the record books. Also known as the immaculate inning, this rare feat has only been accomplished 49 times, compared to 279 no-hitters thrown.
"It was awesome after the fact. I didn't know I did it at the time. I knew I struck out the side, but I didn't know I did it in nine pitches," he said.
Lawrence had a great run from 2002 to 2004 in which he logged more than 200-plus innings a year and won at least 10 games per year.
"My pitching style helped me stay consistent. (If) one day my sinker wasn't working, I could choose from different pitches to get deep into the game. I never had to rely on one certain pitch to be good. This helped us win games, save the bullpen, and it would give my manager the confidence that they knew I was giving them 5, 6, 7 solid innings every start."
As Spring Training begins, Lawrence is focused on building lasting relationships and chemistry with the coaching staff and players.
"I'm looking forward to Spring Training, meeting my team and getting to know these guys ... It will be nice to see some of them get to the Big Leagues in the next couple years. That will be a highlight for me. Having the camaraderie with my fellow coaches, it's going to be fun getting to know everyone."